The fashion industry across West Africa reflects multiple cultures and, through job creation and intellectual capital, forms a big part of the regional economy. But, inadequate intellectual property rights protection and the lack of general legal knowledge in the industry mean many creative ideas never fully bear fruit. Increasingly, players are now looking to the law to improve business decisions.
Enter Annie Oti, a law graduate from Obafemi Awolowo University in South-West Nigeria and founder of Africa Fashion Law www.africafashionlaw.com.ng. This is a virtual fashion law consultancy catering for the textile, footwear, jewelry and cosmetic industries.
“There were glaring loopholes in the legal support for the fashion industry and I decided to be deliberate about providing a solution,” says Oti.
Individuals in the industry are not enlightened enough about their creative rights and, even those who are aware, do not know the appropriate steps to take to protect their creativity, she says.
“Through Africa Fashion Law we offer products and services like The Fashion Biz Starter Pack, and the Africa Fashion Law eBook Series which informs and guides fashion entrepreneurs. These contain practical steps for Nigerian fashion businesses on some of the best legal and business structures they can implement in their entities.”
Because it is an area of law with a thin history in Nigeria, Oti admits that breaking new ground “hasn’t been all butterflies and sunshine”.
“I have had to become an avid researcher of global trends and how to apply these to improve the situation for local clients.”
However she has given advice to a number of fashion entrepreneurs which they applied in their businesses and which ultimately led to positive results.
Questions she is frequently asked include: “What steps can I take in promoting my fashion business?” “How can I protect my fashion business?” “Do I have to register my trademark?” “What is a business structure?” “How can I go about creating a business plan with realistic projections?”
On a light note Oti says that at social gatherings she has to constantly make it clear that she is “a fashion lawyer and not a fashion designer” – but maybe that is because she looks very much like she could be a designer!
“For me, fashion is a means of expression! It is art, culture, beauty, a way of life. Everything about fashion makes me comfortable. It is my creative safe space. You can tell the whole world about your personality just by the type of clothes you wear.”
For now this fashion lawyer says choosing law as a foundation for her career was a good decision and, given the opportunity to go back in time, it would still be law for her.
She is working to cement her experience and knowledge in the fashion field, advance her education and build her professional network.
And, she is happy to welcome more legal players in the fashion space.
“If you are thinking of becoming a fashion lawyer you must answer these questions - how deep is your passion for this area? Are you a risk taker? Can you stand failure? Are you ready to put in the work required?
“The fashion industry is not all glitz and glam!”